Friday, July 25, 2003

Hope Seen For Poultry Industry Study Says Companies Can Address Pollution-Washington Post

The Eastern Shore's share of the U.S. poultry market has slipped in recent years amid regional and global competition, but the industry remains strong and should be able to adapt to new environmental standards, a new report from the University of Maryland concludes.

"The Eastern Shore economy has a huge stake in the poultry industry, but that investment is not at immediate risk of going down the drain," said Bruce Gardner, chairman of the university's Agricultural and Resource Economics Department and co-author of the report released yesterday.

The report comes as Maryland farmers scramble to control pollution caused by poultry manure they use as fertilizer -- and as a new Republican governor evaluates whether those standards are too strict. Researchers acknowledge that there are "reasons for worry" and that "seemingly small events or policies could worsen the industry's prospects considerably."

But even with "razor-thin" profit margins, production of broilers on the peninsula that includes parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia remains a lucrative business for national poultry processors. For that reason, the study's authors conclude that even with tighter environmental regulations and development pressures, the poultry industry is not in imminent danger of collapse.

"The industry has a large investment in people and infrastructure on Delmarva," said Wesley N. Musser, co-author of the study and a U-Md. agricultural economist. "If they moved elsewhere, they would have to rebuild all that."

Commissioned by the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology, a nonprofit research arm of the university, the report evaluates the economic and environmental stresses on the industry and considers the effects on farmers and processing plants across the peninsula.

Researchers conclude that farmers could meet their obligation to reduce pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay watershed by planting buffer crops that would absorb excess nutrients and by expanding the use of new technologies that turn poultry manure into a marketable commercial fertilizer.

The researchers may prove to be more optimistic than farmers and companies in the poultry industry, however.

Perdue Farms Inc. spokeswoman Tita Cherrier said company officials' initial reaction to the study was that it used old data and reached contradictory conclusions. "They're making you believe things are rosy and it's a cash cow," she said. "If I was a professor grading this as a paper, it wouldn't get very high marks."

A panel of industry representatives appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to release its assessment of the business climate in Maryland early next month.

So far, participants have been less than enthusiastic about the environmental controls Maryland is imposing on poultry farmers and the state's efforts in recent years to hold national poultry firms responsible for the manure produced by birds.

Five years ago, scientists linked farm runoff to an outbreak of toxic algae that was blamed for killing hundreds of thousands of fish off the Eastern Shore. Then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) shut down parts of three rivers and began a campaign that led Maryland to become the first state to hold poultry companies responsible for the polluting effects of the manure.

Last month, Ehrlich said that Glendening had overstepped his authority and that the state would abandon restrictions on national processors. Instead, he said he would use voluntary measures or economic incentives to stanch the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous into the bay.

Last week, at a day-long conference sponsored by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, at least one scientist asserted that there would be no poultry manure problem on the Eastern Shore if all farmers applied it to their fields.

Environmentalists expressed concern that the Ehrlich administration is seeking to minimize the pollution problems.

"There is far too much [chicken manure] to use on Delmarva without damaging water quality," said William C. Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and a member of the Center for Agro-Ecology's board. "It is critical that the poultry industry increase their efforts."

I am part of our local chamber of commerce which is an organization for county businesses and they seem to hate the "environmentalists" because the environmentalists are always fighting for the environment at the expense of business. Well I am an environmentalist and a business man and I don't see the conflict. Saving the environment is an investment. The Chesapeake dying and being polluted and having tons of chicken crap poured into is not doing anyone any good.

If I could go back in time, one of the things I would most like to see is the Chesapeake bay in the 1600 hundreds when it was clear, clean, beautiful, sustaining and all that soppy environmental stuff. It breaks my heart to see what it has become and that there is little hope for its restoration. It is further disheartnening that we have a governor, Republican I might add, who seems to be on a personal mission to destroy the bay.

I think businesses and Republicans need to look at the bay as an economic asset and then maybe preserving it would not be considered as such an evil thing.


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